Welcome to TV Flashback Reviews, a new part of our TV Flashback series, where we’ll be doing more in-depth, episodic looks at shows from the past! With CW’s The Flash now airing, we’ll be looking back at the 1990 iteration of Barry Allen from beginning to end every Flashback Friday.
Episode 13, “Tina, Is That You?”
Originally aired: February 14, 1991
An accident with a biofeedback machine splits Tina’s personality and turns her into a criminal who wants to defeat the Flash.
Strange as it may be, I was looking forward to “Tina, Is That You?” more than most other episodes when I read its synopsis. There’s something about personality change episodes that are inherently exciting; even at their worst and dumbest, they still provide opportunities for the actors to do something totally different, which is entertaining to watch. This case is coupled with the fact that Amanda Pays has been a hard actress to pin down; at times she seems very stiff, but that stiffness and coldness is also played up as being an important part of her character sometimes. Tina McGee is an odd amalgam of archetypes, taking on a love interest role but with very minimal overt romance much of the time, plus some stereotypical British pompousness, all wrapped with in a basic scientist role. She’s rarely the damsel, but she’s not exactly a strong fighter either, and in most episodes plays a passive role in the proceedings. So an episode putting Tina in a wholly different situation ought to shed more light on who Tina is, along with show off what chops Pays really has.
Frankly, the episode ends up being a bit different than expected, but nevertheless entertaining. The set-up for the personality alteration is…odd, to say the least. Essentially, Barry has nightmares about Tina, and Tina tries to use some machine to transfer what basically amounts to “good thoughts” to him, only it backfires and instead transfers Barry’s bad thoughts–aka the crazy dream-version Tina–into Tina’s mind and make her sort of act it out. I think that’s what happened, anyway. None of it makes any sense, really, but it sets up a fairly easy conclusion (Barry hooks her up to the machine and thinks thoughts of dream-Tina feeling remorseful and sobbing…which is kind of creepy, if you think about it.) So, yeah. This is probably the most needlessly complicated way to get a split personality episode ever.
That’s okay, though, because the results are what matters. Tina is totally unpredictable, and it’s all kinds of funny and dark. The 180s this version of Tina does are so wild and wacky, but Amanda Pays’s rather stiff acting style totally works, because there’s no way of telling which Tina is present at any given moment. She can be sweet and tempered when talking to Barry, and then turn around and punch an old nurse lady in the face. The episode totally goes all out at making the darker Tina as ruthlessly mean and despicable as possible, and it makes it sickeningly entertaining, where you feel bad for laughing when she turns around and does something horrible. Like, again, punching an old nurse lady in the face.
The Black Rose Gang is a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, it’s fun to see the show mess around with an all-girl gang and play it fairly straight. The women in the gang are fairly ruthless; not necessarily evil, but totally willing to go all-out with robbing banks and the like. The problem is more that, of course the all-girl gang pops up in the episode Tina, a woman, needs to join a gang. It’s not a big offense or anything, but it is a bit of a letdown that that we couldn’t see Tina lead a bunch of big bikers or druglords. That said, Tina is still a blast as their Big Boss, even if she’s using them to kidnap Barry’s current date out of jealous rage. She’s still formidable and fun as a villain, especially given she can restrict Barry’s powers. And, again, Tina’s mood swings make the events of the episode hard to predict, especially since we can never tell if she’s being cunning and manipulative or just plain bonkers.
And, of course, there’s the fact that this episode originally premiered on Valentine’s Day. Following the events of “The Trickster,” Barry and Tina are a bit more open that they have feelings for one another, even if they’ve both been avoiding it. One of the problems with The Flash now, though, is that it honestly hasn’t given a good reason for why Barry and Tina aren’t getting together. This episode makes it even more blatantly obvious than “The Trickster” did, with Barry dreaming of Tina literally professing her love for him, so there’s no reason for either of them to be acting oblivious to it. Different episodes have posited different roadblocks–Tina’s grief over her dead husband, Barry getting over Iris or being generally oblivious, etc.–but none of them have really stuck. I could buy a naive fear of ruining the friendship or their Flash-related partnership, but that doesn’t always seem to be the case. At this point, Tina and Barry are only playing the will they/won’t they game because that was popular on TV at the time, and as much as I love that kind of romance, it hasn’t been well justified here. Get them together, or give them a reason to be apart.
Episode 14, “Be My Baby”
Originally aired: February 21, 1991
Barry helps a young mother keep her infant daughter from the hands of the father, a suave criminal who’s determined to get his child back no matter what.
On the flipside, I’ll put it out there that I’m never a fan of TV episodes about babies. There might be some psychoanalyst stuff you could do on me about why that is, but it still stands that baby-centric episodes are kind of annoying. “Be My Baby” isn’t terrible in the way that, say, Smallville‘s exploding baby episode “Ageless” was, but it also hits many of the obnoxious notes that these kinds of episodes do.
Barry superspeeds around to appease five screaming and crying babies at once! Tina and Barry are hilariously flustered and inept when it comes to taking care of one baby! Barry builds a superspeed crib! The bad guys are gagged with diapers! Look, I totally relish Barry’s puns and the show’s silly sense of humor, but there’s a point of diminishing returns when it comes to this joke. Babies cry a lot and make adults nervous and weird and funny. That’s pretty much the episode.
But even that aside, this is just generally a boring hour. Coming off of a string of memorable and genre-bending episodes, “Be My Baby” is rather underdeveloped and low-concept, something that might even be too slow for the first half of the season. No, it’s not a complete slog; there’s a hilarious Tina moment as she sings “Hush Little Baby” and gets progressively angrier and her eyes get more psychotic-looking with every verse. It’s also nice to see more Priscilla Pointer as Nora Allen, especially since her involvement makes Barry a little more on edge when things get rough. And, nonsensical as it may be, Garfield in disguise as a hobo with Murphy and Bellows in drag for no discernible reason (and no offensive comments about it either) is silly enough to work. But none of that really saves the episode from its own slow pacing.
One saving grace is that it features a very young Bryan Cranston as the lead villian, Phillip Mark Moses, and he’s easily the most sinister Lex Luthor-esque type we’ve gotten. Cranston shows early shades of his ability to play the smug villain his Breaking Bad persona eventually becomes, even if this particular villain is nowhere near as complex as Walter White.
The problem with Moses is his unclear motivations; there are some bits about him being obsessed with sterilization and germs that only slightly color his character, and it might be linked with other hints that imply he was working on genetic research or synthetic humans, or something. He also randomly throws out weird weapons, like sonic devices and even a freakin’ ninja star. But they’re only oblique references, and his final comeuppance ends up only having to do with losing all his money, after he talked about those $10 million incessantly for the last fourth of the episode. So really, what did this guy want? Did he really just want Lily back out of some sick and twisted type of “love”? Was he going to, like, clone her or something? It’s never clear, and it always seems like that will be a big reveal, but nothing comes of it. All that matters is he’s a bad guy. Which is fine, but means there honestly isn’t much more to this episode than Barry chasing after a serial babynapper. Which, frankly, is all any of this amounts to.
Next Week: This Flash’s first (and probably only) foray into time travel in “Fast Forward,” and the return of one of the best guest stars in “The Deadly Nightshade.”
Odds & Ends
- A moment that encapsulates all of “Tina, Is That You?”: Mean-Tina yelling, “Bloody Father Christmas!” followed by Barry’s confuddled reaction at “Bloody?”
- Weird uses of Flash powers this week: Threatening to tattoo a man in superspeed, and the baby stuff. …All the baby stuff.
- “It’s Totally the 90s” Reference: Barry mentions having “loads of laserdiscs.”
- I know it’s dramatic and everything, but wow, that music in the hospital when Barry is freaking out at the beginning of “Tina, Is That You?” is so utterly unnecessarily loud.
- This show is actually surprisingly realistic sometimes: Barry and Julio complain that searching databases for prints will take all night. Compare to how we can throw out ten-second DNA tests on TV shows these days.
- What is with this guy’s face?!
- I’m not going to accuse “Tina, Is That You?” of truly being sexist, because it really isn’t overall, but I take issue with Barry’s quips this time around. “You’ve been a very bad girl” is kind of gross. “It’s time to tame the shrew” is better because it’s a Shakespeare reference, but it’s still kind of icky.
- So, Lisa gets humiliated, kidnapped, and nearly killed by Tina, and she’s…totally okay with it. Yeah, Barry “explained” it offscreen. Suddenly Lisa is friendly with Tina, totally understands, and can even joke about it? No way. Not only was that a traumatizing situation, but it was a traumatizing situation with an explanation that still doesn’t make much sense. Did Barry really tell her his dream vibes were transferred to Tina’s head in an explosion? There are so many problems with this.
- Tina gets her comeuppance in “Be My Baby” for punching that nurse in the former episode, because when Moses’s goons come to kidnap Lily from STAR, she gets slapped so hard that she falls to the ground. Ouch.
- “No more birthday party clowns!”
“Hey now, Cookie made really good balloon animals!”
- “Nice body. Too bad I gotta put holes in it.”